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  • Taking Exception to American Exceptionalism

    American exceptionalism is currently at the heart of a great debate over the country’s future and, according to one presidential hopeful at least, will be “one of the two or three deciding issues in 2012.” USA Today devoted its cover story yesterday to the storm of controversy that President Obama’s off-the-cuff remarks on the subject in Strasbourg last year continue to generate. According to a Gallup poll commissioned by USA Today for the story, three quarters of Americans fear that the country is at risk of losing its unique character.

    Though the phrase “American exceptionalism” does get tossed around a lot, confusion reigns over its actual meaning. Before deciding whether American exceptionalism is a good or bad thing, whether it’s threatened or not and whether the President actually embraces it, shouldn’t we first figure out what it actually means?

    Does it mean, as the USA Today/Gallup poll asked, that America “has a unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world?” Or does it only indicate that “America has a special place and role in the world,” as Mitt Romney writes in No Apology: The Case for American Greatness?

    Is it nothing more than a fancy way to speak of patriotism, as President Obama’s remarks in Strasbourg suggest, suspecting as he does that all people believe in the exceptionalism of their country? Or is it in fact a form of jingoism, anchored in what The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart calls “the lunatic notion that America is the only truly free and successful country in the world” and what Politico’s Michael Kinsley dismisses as the “theory that Americans are better than everybody else”?

    Let’s start with what everyone can agree about: America does stand out from other countries—in particular other Western countries—on a wide array of measures. America’s economic might and military capabilities are unrivaled. Americans also give more to charity than anyone else and vote more frequently than anyone else (there are, after all, more offices open to election than anywhere else in the world). Comparative surveys also reveal that Americans are more religious than citizens of other advanced democracies. They also have more faith than anyone else in the the power of individuals to shape their own lives through hard work.

    Since the numbers don’t lie, what’s all the big fuss about then? America’s number one in philanthropy, but Japan has the longest life expectancy and Luxembourg the highest per capita GDP.  Aren’t we all statistically exceptional in one way or another?

    To really understand what sets America apart, we need to go beyond numbers to examine the heart and soul of the nation: the ideas of the Declaration of Independence. Unlike other nations that derive their meaning and purpose from some unifying quality—an ethnic character, a common religion, a shared history, an ancestral land—America is a country dedicated to to the universal ideas of equality and liberty. The truths we hold to be self-evident apply to all men—not just all Americans.

    As G.K. Chesteron noted: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” As such, there is an American Dream—but no French, Greek or Australian Dreams.

    In the most fundamental sense, America is an exceptional nation not because of what it does—but because of what it believes.

    This understanding of American exceptionalism in no way implies that America has not often fallen short of—and at times even betrayed—these ideals. Nor does it imply that Americans are better than everyone else and are therefore somehow exempt from whatever rules may apply to others. As to whether it makes America “the greatest country in the world,” as the USA Today/Gallup poll asked, that depends on how you define greatness and is really a separate question altogether.

    American’s dedication to the permanent truths expressed in the Declaration of Independence does however mean that it has a special role to play in the world. America has a responsibility to uphold freedom and the cause of liberty both at home and abroad.

    America then, really is different. Not just in the way that all countries are different, Mr. President, but different in a different sort of way, so to speak. Exceptionally different, shall we say?

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    10 Responses to Taking Exception to American Exceptionalism

    1. Sharon, OHIO says:

      Why, I wonder, does a Constitutional scholar like our President consistently omit the phrase endowed "by their Creator" with certain etc. when quoting the Constitution?

    2. Brad, Chicago says:

      America is an exceptional place, because it is a country of immigrants. Even Native Americans had to join the country despite their geographic disposition. This country was created, formed, and has been sustained by people that wanted to leave some other place to come here and be a part of it. Is there another country in the world that can say that?

      This country is also exceptional, because despite great success and power, we don't force anyone else to be like us. To do so would be an impossible, not to mention hypocritical endeavor. The people that created this country did so in order to preserve their freedom to be who they wanted to be. You can't force someone to be themselves and the very idea of forcing "freedom" is an oxymoron.

      America is exceptional, because of opportunity. Yes, there is the American dream, that gives hope that anyone can build the life of their choice, if they choose a path. The concept goes much further than that, though. It's not just about money, but the success of the country has opened up the world to all Americans. How many major cities have a Chinatown or a Little Italy (or 2 or more of such ethnic zones)? How many museums and libraries do we have? There is also great opportunity for charity. I don't know the exact numbers, but I wonder if any other government offered as much money for Haiti as the people of the United States did (not to mention the money our President promised them). For that matter, I would bet that no other country sent as many civilians to the island to help as we did. Whether that is the exceptionalism of the country, being affluent enough to have the transportation, expertise, supplies, vacation days, etc. to offer that level of aid, or the exceptionalism of the people of this country doesn't much matter does it.

      I guess I'm making a case for the country being exceptional due to the quality of people that constitue it. I think that's as good a case to make as any.

    3. jacksmith says:

      REALITY!!

      ( Health Care Budget Deficit Calculator — http://www.cepr.net/calculators/hc/hc-calculator…. )

      ( Briefing: Dean Baker on Boosting the Economy by Saving Healthcare http://t.co/fmVz8nM )

      START NOW!

      As you all know. Had congress passed a government-run robust Public Option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one, our economy and jobs would have taken off like a rocket. And still will.

      The message from these midterm elections is clear. The American people want real healthcare reform. They want that individual mandate requiring them to buy private health insurance abolished. And they want a government-run robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one. And they want it now.

      They want Drug re-importation, and abolishment or strong restrictions on patents for biologic and prescription drugs. And government controlled and negotiated drug and medical cost. They want back control of their healthcare system from the Medical Industrial Complex. And they want it NOW!

      THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WILL NOT AND MUST NOT ALLOW AN INDIVIDUAL MANDATE TO STAND WITHOUT A STRONG GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! AVAILABLE TO EVERYONE.

      For profit health insurance is extremely unethical, and morally repugnant. It's as morally repugnant as slavery was. And few if any decent Americans are going to allow them-self to be compelled to support such an unethical and immoral crime against humanity.

      This is a matter of National and Global security. There can be NO MORE EXCUSES.

      Further, we want that corrupt, undemocratic filibuster abolished. Whats the point of an election if one corrupt member of congress can block the will of the people, and any legislation the majority wants. And do it in secret. Give me a break people.

      Also, unemployment healthcare benefits are critically needed. But they should be provided through the Medicare program at cost, less the 65% government premium subsidy provided now to private for profit health insurance.

      Congress should stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money on private for profit health insurance subsidies. Subsidies that cost the taxpayer 10x as much or more than Medicare does. Private for profit health insurance plans cost more. But provide dangerous and poorer quality patient care.

      Republicans: GET RID OF THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE.

      Democrats: ADD A ROBUST GOVERNMENT-RUN PUBLIC OPTION TO HEALTHCARE REFORM.

      This is what the American people are shouting at you. Both parties have just enough power now to do what the American people want. GET! IT! DONE! NOW!

      If congress does not abolish the individual mandate. And establish a government-run public option CHOICE! before the end of 2011. EVERY! member of congress up for reelection in 2012 will face strong progressive pro public option, and anti-individual mandate replacement candidates.

      Strong progressive pro "PUBLIC OPTION" CHOICE! and anti-individual mandate volunteer candidates should begin now. And start the process of replacing any and all members of congress that obstruct, or fail to add a government-run robust PUBLIC OPTION CHOICE! before the end of 2011.

      We need two or three very strong progressive volunteer candidates for every member of congress that will be up for reelection in 2012. You should be fully prepared to politically EVISCERATE EVERY INCUMBENT that fails or obstructs "THE PUBLIC OPTION". And you should be willing to step aside and support the strongest pro "PUBLIC OPTION" candidate if the need arises.

      ASSUME CONGRESS WILL FAIL and SELLOUT again. So start preparing now to CUT THEIR POLITICAL THROATS. You can always step aside if they succeed. But only if they succeed. We didn't have much time to prepare before these midterm elections. So the American people had to use a political shotgun approach. But by 2012 you will have a scalpel.

      Congress you could pass a robust government-run public option now during your lame duck session. You know what the American people want. You already have several bills on record. And the house has already passed a public option. Departing members could leave with a truly great accomplishment. And the rest of you would solidify your job before the 2012 elections.

      President Obama, you promised the American people a strong public option available to everyone. And the American people overwhelmingly supported you for it. Maybe it just wasn't possible before. But it is now.

      Knock heads. Threaten people. Or do whatever you have to. We will support you. But get us that robust public option CHOICE! available to everyone on day one before the end of 2011. Or We The People Of The United States will make this midterm election look like a cake walk in 2012. And it will include you.

      We still have a healthcare crisis in America. With hundreds of thousands dieing needlessly every year in America. And a for profit medical industrial complex that threatens the security and health of the entire world. They have already attacked the world with H1N1 killing thousands, and injuring millions. And more attacks are planned for profit, and to feed their greed.

      Spread the word people.

      Progressives, prepare the American peoples scalpels. It's time to remove some politically diseased tissues.

      God Bless You my fellow human beings. I'm proud to be one of you. You did good.

      See you on the battle field.

      Sincerely

      jacksmith – WorkingClass :-)

      • David J. says:

        Jack:— "You're entitled to your own opinions, but you are NOT entitled to your own facts" — (the late) Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
        I found it a bit difficult to follow what you do or do not like, due to your writing style. However, that last one, about "they have already attacked the world with H1N1, killing thousands and injuring millions."
        ANY evidence at all??
        Making such a statement serves only to discredit everything that you've said. EVERYTHING!

    4. Dennis Georgia says:

      America is exceptional in many ways. We are a country that is supposed to be free, freedom of speech, truth, liberty and equailty for all. It is a country where pride in ones self is great, ones ability to be sucessful is open to ones ability and desire, a respect to all that are willing to work and be a part of our society. Yes America is special in many ways. America stands out in the world because of our desire to remain free, our desire to help when and where needed, to give what is needed but ask nothing in return, a nation where God is first and foremost in our lives.

    5. Joe - Tampa says:

      I AM TIRED OF DEALING WITH EVERY WACKO, SOCIALIST, FACIST EFFORT TO RUIN OUR COUNTRY. SINCE WHEN DID WE DECIDE TO TOLERATE THESE PEOPLE BEING IN OUR COUNTRY, LET ALONE IN OUR GOVERNMENT? LET'S WAKE UP AND TAKE A STAND FOR A CHANGE, STATING THAT WE ARE A CHRISTIAN, FREEDON LOVING COUNTRY AND WE WILL BE HAPPY TO PERMIT YOU TO PRACTIVE YOUR OWN CUSTOMS AND RELIGION, UNTIL IT CONTRADICTS OUR FUNDAMENTAL BELIEFS AND CONSTITUTION. AT THIS POINT I WOULD BE HAPPY TO PAY A TAX THAT INCLUDES A PLANE TICKET FOR YOU OUT OF THIS COUNTRY.

    6. Ace Sez says:

      President Obama understands 'American Exceptionalism' and his goal is to destroy 'American Exceptionalism–he is having a lot of success at accomplishing his goal—-with the help pf a bunch of elected officials and his gang of thuggly czars !!

    7. PatriotGames says:

      John Boehner now proposes that every bill brought before Congress be accompanied by a document that cites the passage(s) of the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to bring the bill before Congress for consideration… that would be truly exceptional, given the 70 years of American history.

      OK, so Boehner can talk the talk… let's see if he can walk the walk.

    8. Pingback: Why Does America Welcome Immigrants?

    9. Pingback: Minority Twice » Blog Archive » Why Does America Welcome Immigrants?

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